In 1964, the year of the first Tokyo Olympics, three important Japanese novels were published, one of which helped lead to a Nobel Prize, and a very exciting new author was born[UPDATED: 7-23-2021]
In 1964, Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972), Japan’s first winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (he won in 1968), published Beauty and Sadness and four years later went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Beauty and Sadness is an elegiac and provocative novel that cleverly blends tradition and modernity, as well as age and youth, in its subtle narrative.
The same year, Japan’s first Olympic year, Kenzaburo Oe published A Personal Matter, which was cited by the Nobel prize committee in 1994 when he became the second Japanese author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
In 1964, four Japanese authors were amongst the 76 candidates nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature; Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965), Kawabata, Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) and Junzaburo Nishiwaki (1894-1982).
None of them won. But in the media frenzy leading up to the official announcement by the Nobel Committee the French news agency L’Agence-France-Presse (AFP) announced in error that Junichiro Tanizaki had won.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) was the actual winner and sadly Tanizaki died the following year in July, a few months before the 1965 prize-winner was announced.
Other notable publishing highlights in 1964, a year with many, included the publication of a third important Japanese novel, The Face of Another, by Kobo Abe (1924-1993), which quickly became a classic.
The Face of Another describes modern Japan and the danger of unregulated technology, but is mostly a narrative about identity and relationships.
The novel is about a plastics scientist who loses his face in an accident and makes a new one for himself. This act besides changing his own perspective, also affects his relationships with others – including his wife, who he manages to seduce.
Banana Yoshimoto, who is probably now Japan’s best-known female writer internationally was born in 1964, making Japan’s first Olympic year a rather special milestone year for Japanese creative writing, literature and publishing; not to mention sport.
Yoshimoto’s first book, Kitchen, also considered a modern classic, was published 24 years after the Tokyo Olympics in 1988. It is a mesmerizing and elegantly written novel about an orphan who is taken in by her friend and her transgender mother.
Kitchen is now sometimes cited as a pioneering example of LGBT related publishing in Japan.